By Hoi Sin Hoi Sin does not exist, has never existed and can never exist. But we keep getting articles.
Imagine, dear readers, that tomorrow all of the physical technology we have disappears. Our dormitories, our laptop computers, our motorbikes, our books and all of the ground tea. Some of these things (tea) are more necessary than others (books), but what would be the most devastating loss? The answer, dear readers, is the everyday tools that would be needed to build society back up to the top of the natural order. What follows is a thought experiment. The aim is to spread some fire through your minds, and to see how much the average student knows about what lengths humans had to go through over the years. We are unwillingly obliged, at this point, to mention that none of our readers are “average”, and you are all “different”. Now that that is over, we must lay down some ground rules:
Current technology is not just unusable; the world is completely devoid of its existence.
Only physical technology is gone so if you know now what a toaster is, and how it works, you still know that. You just don’t have one.
Manipulations to the earth remain unchanged, but not manipulations of earth. So a stone statue would disappear, but a soccer field would still be flat.
Lastly, to make this easier, we will pick a singular tool as opposed to tools in general; one that is very simple in design and in use. We have picked a spanner.
To help this imaginary society recover, let us start off by thinking about what a spanner is. A spanner is a piece of metal with many uses, such as makeshift weapons, makeshift crowbars, makeshift hammers, makeshift paperweights (a more advanced variable wrench can even be used as a makeshift thing-on-the-back-of-hammers); but its main purpose is to be shaped in such a way that it will fit almost perfectly around bolts. It gives the user enough strength to tighten said bolts so they will remain firm and hold an object together. It has to be durable, strong and accurately made. A spanner too big, too small, too soft or too brittle is useless.
So how would someone go about making such a beautiful, perfect tool? This, dear reader, we want you to answer. Go on. Think about it. Put down the paper and think: what would it take for someone to make a spanner? A whole group of people, even, and from scratch. A lot of you are just skipping this part, but please, this is a thought experiment; it does not work if you do not think about it. Take another five minutes out of your schedule. You have time. Exams are not for many months.
There are many things you could have said in response to this, or, more likely thought. We do expect most of our readers to do this mentally and without collaboration. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Now if you think that a machine is the only way to make something so strong and perfect, you are right. That degree of accuracy and strength requires machines. A human with a forge and a chisel could make one just as accurate by whittling it down, yes, but it wouldn’t be as strong, and a human with a hammer could make one just as strong, but far less accurate. Well that was easy, wasn’t it? All we need is some machines to make them. Bam, article over.
But we don’t have any machines. We lost all our technology, remember? So how do we get them? We know that we ask a lot of questions, dear reader, and they must bore down your mind, but they are necessary to get you to think. Even if a question isn’t being answered, an answer is often thought of for it.
Continuing. We currently make machines using, well, other machines. This is not a good place to be. Let us think back to when heavy duty machines first started being used. Yes, history majors, that is the industrial revolution. At least, we believe. We are not history majors. Disregarding that, the machines in the industrial revolution could not have been made from other machines, simply because they did not exist. However, they were imperfect because of this. Those machines were made by hand, and some were used to make slightly better machines, which made better machines which made even better machines, and those machines made spanners. How were those first machines made? By tongs and hammers. We have been hammering metal into shapes for thousands of years.
Simply, we need to hammer metal into imperfect machines, and work our way up from there. Well, dear readers, we worked hard for it, but we finally found the end of the chain. We are glad you have stuck with us so far, and we hope you reached all the ideas we did. Now, we can get to the real point of the article.
Actually, we don’t have any hammers, because we lost all our technology. Great. So we have to bang rocks against warm metal until we have shitty hammers and use those to make less shitty hammers; and we haven’t even talked about getting metal for those hammers, which means we need more tools to mine, refine, and forge. This is getting out of hand. We think you’ll all agree when we say that we can just leave it there.
To make a spanner from scratch would take a hundred men who know each a hundred things about spanners and the making thereof — a hundred years to get anywhere close to what we have in our hands right now.
Whether you are an ancient smith hovering over a lonely fire or a hungry lecturer huddled around a taunting assignment, we must all pay our respects to those that worked before us. No knowledge is without foundation, both physical and mental. It does not matter whether you have forgotten how to multiply or if you have forgotten how to keep a pen on you, you will have to work harder to get to the end.
The one thing you must not forget, though: everyone must save a penny for the ferryman.
Until next time, Hoi Sin